Humans have been giving birth for millions of years. We’ve pushed out babies in caves and deserts, on mountains and in fields and yet now, if you don’t have a midwife guiding your natural birth while your partner waves incense over your womb and a doula massages your placenta … you’re doing it ALL wrong.
At least, that’s how I feel. As the birth of my twins gets nearer, the unsolicited advice gets stronger. “Do it naturally!” “TAKE THE DRUGS!” “Do you have a midwife?” “Who is your Doula?” “Did you take a birth class?” “Save your placenta!” “Do NOT have a C-Section” “Have you considered a water birth?” For the record, I have not considered a water birth, I do not have a Doula, I have not taken a single birth class, and I find your advice SO stressful, it actually might send me into labour.
So instead of spending another sleepless night lying awake thinking of epidurals and Lamaze and midwives and placentas, I figured I’d call my favorite OB, Dr. Dena Bloomenthal, to help dispel some common childbirth myths and put my mind and uterus at ease.
Childbirth myth #1:
You should try to have a “natural” birth
If you gave birth naturally, without any kind of painkiller, I would like to take a moment to stop writing this and BOW. DOWN. Choosing to give birth without an epidural is like deciding to fight a wild bear with your hands instead of picking up the sword lying right next to you. It’s some serious Game of Thrones sh*t. While I always figured I would take whatever drugs were offered to me, lately, more and more people are telling me that I should “just TRY “to do it naturally so I can “feel the once in a lifetime experience of childbirth.”
Dr. Bloomenthal explained that having this magical birthing experience might be easier said than done. “I see pregnant ladies all day long,” she tells me from her office at B.C Women’s Hospital.
“They go to pre-natal classes and they hire doulas and they write birth plans and they say I’m gonna do it natural! and some people do, and that is entirely their choice, but my observation is that many, MANY first-time moms are surprised by how painful it is. Nine times out of ten, they end up asking for some kind of pain control.”
So I am not a complete failure if I don’t sing Kumbaya as I push two human beings through my loins? “I think people are so hard on themselves, and there is so much pressure to be ‘natural’ and have no pain control,” Dr. Bloomenthal reassured me. “But human childbirth is DIFFICULT. Some women want a vaginal birth and they end up with a c-section, others want a natural birth and end up with an epidural, and that’s FINE. In my view, do whatever you need to do to get healthy babies and above all, be kind to yourself.”
Childbirth myth #2:
You should eat your placenta
If you were about to pour a glass of wine and sit down to a big ol’ plate of placenta, don’t let me stop you. But Dr. Bloomenthal might. “I can say with honesty,” she tells me, “I have never seen a placenta that was appetizing.” Shocker. She continued, “If we look back over the last 2 million years of reproduction, humans have never consumed their afterbirth.” But ‘afterbirth’ is such an appetizing word!?
She explains, “I think it just comes down to risk vs. benefit. One risk is that the placenta is prone to bacterial infections. The second risk is the fact that the people who encapsulate or prepare placentas don’t have to meet any particular medical standard. Nor do they have to be watched or monitored. But, if a woman still feels strongly that it could be helpful to her and she still wants to go for it, then that’s ok!” Hey, the Kardashians have all done it and they turned out fine, right? RIGHT!?
Dr. Bloomenthal tells me there are other ways to thank your placenta for its service, without physically consuming it. “Some people keep their placenta and plant a tree over it. So they can watch the tree grow as their child grows. I think that could be quite beautiful.”
Surprisingly, I agree. My placenta has single handedly grown two identical twin babies, it could grow a tree in its sleep. The doctor assures me that whatever I choose to do with my um… afterbirth, I will not be judged. “These days, quite a few people choose to keep their placenta, which is fine!” she assures me. “I tend to stay really unattached from what people choose to do, as long as there is safety around it, anything goes.”
Childbirth myth #3:
Everything should be perfect
I always imagined that one day I would have two kids, I just never imagined I would have them BOTH AT ONCE. As a result, I am approaching my impending twin birth as if it’s the only time I’ll ever do it. And, like everything else in my life, I want it to be PERFECT. Is that too much to ask? According to Dr. Bloomenthal, it absolutely is.
“I think women are so hard on themselves. There is so much pressure to be ‘natural’ and to exclusively breastfeed and go to the gym immediately after and I expect it’s the magazines and the blogs and the things that we read that place a lot of that pressure.”
She couldn’t be more right. I saw three separate magazines in my OB’s waiting room just this morning. One promised to show me “5 Easy Ways to a Pain-Free Birth!” another declared “Get the Perfect Bikini Beach Bump!” and the third assured me I could “Bounce Back in 2 Weeks or Less!” Every message we get as pregnant women tells us there is something we should or could be doing differently to make our bodies thinner, our babies stronger, our labours easier. As if we aren’t doing our best already.
“I feel sad about it all, “Dr. Bloomenthal tells me wistfully, “Because most women feel really badly when they don’t actually accomplish all of those things. Of course it’s wonderful if they do, but I spend a lot of time reassuring people that it’s OK to supplement your baby if just can’t make enough milk, and it’s OK to get help if you’re losing your mind and you need help, and it’s OK if you are unable to accomplish everything perfectly. You are going through your own journey, and no one should dictate what that journey is but you.”
I thanked Dr. Bloomenthal for helping to re-direct my own journey. I have since vowed to stop pouring through magazines that set unrealistic expectations. To stop listening to strangers that give unsolicited advice. And above all, I have vowed to stop putting unnecessary pressure on myself. After all, I am about to bring two human babies into the universe, and no matter how I get there…. it will be perfect.